Greek Theater Essay

1079 words - 5 pages

Ancient Greek Theater

The plays written and performed by the ancient Greeks were the very first accounts of theater, as we know it. It was in ancient Greece, particularly during the golden age of Athens, that the two genres known as tragedy and comedy were perfected. Later writers, such as Shakespeare, inherited these two principle forms of playwriting, proving that theater is one of the many lasting innovations of ancient Greek civilization.

By around 500 B.C. plays were often presented at religious festivals in honor of Dionysus, the popular god of wine and fertility. It was an enlightened tyrant, Pisistratus, who officially installed an early springtime festival called the City ...view middle of the document...

Greek tragedy has less clear origins than comedy, though according to Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’, tragedy emerged from the narrative choral song known as the dithyramb. This was, like the komos, performed at festivals of Dionysus. However, the dithyramb was more solemn and rehearsed, and usually told tales from Greek myths. Presumably, individual performers began stepping out of the chorus to sing or speak roles in the character of a mythical figure in the story. With the introduction of costumes and masks, the new art form was called tragoidia, meaning “goat song”, making reference to the importance of goats in the cult of Dionysus.

Because most Greek tragedy drew on tales of myth, the entire audience would often be familiar with the story’s plot. Tragedy usually presented the downfall of a hero, or protagonist, often due to hubris (arrogance). Aristotle explained that tragedy’s artistic goal is to arouse the audience’s emotions of pity and fear in a way that purges these feelings and provides relief. This purging is called katharsis. Greek tragedy also strived to examine the nature of divine justice as well as the role of humankind in the universe. Comedy, on the other hand, was funny and riotous, often mocking specific individuals and institutions. Its characters were less noble and complicated than those in tragedies or even real life, and were very farcical and exaggerated.

The three greatest tragedieans of ancient Greece were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. ‘Persians’, from 472 B.C., is the earliest tragedy still in existence and was written by Aeschylus, whose most well known play is ‘Agamemnon’. He is believed to have introduced the 2nd actor, and put more emphasis on individual roles than on the chorus. Aeschylus is said to have carried off prize after prize from the Dionysia, for about 16 years (between 484 and 468 B.C.). In 468 a new favorite took his place, Sophocles of Colonus.

Sophocles lived from 496-406 B.C., during nearly the whole period of Athens’ “golden age”. He wrote about 125 tragedies, and of them only seven are left. He is regarded as the first to use a 3rd actor, and he fixed the...

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